A Travellerspoint blog

Corn, a Hospital Visit and Birthday Cake


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The annual College football game between the Florida University Gators and the Georgia University Bulldogs is a very popular game, held nearly every year since 1915. It is held in the neutral territory of Jacksonville and has become so popular in recent years that is has become known as 'the 'World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party'. It was even mentioned in the book 'Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil' by John Berendt, among others. We were lucky enough to get some tickets to this game and also to share the day with Aidan and Meg and also friends visiting from Australia, Sarah and Daniel.

The whole day is not just about the game itself, but also about the rivalry between the two teams. Everywhere we went around the stadium, we saw people dressed in either orange and blue (Gators) or red and white (Bulldogs), decorated cars, trailers, tents etc in team colours, tailgaters EVERYWHERE, and people drinking. There was a very large security presence but people appeared to be behaving relatively respectably and drinking whilst walking to the game (although this was not acted upon by the police). We stopped off for some beer and some of the best BBQ we've had yet set up in the car park of a small convenience store. Had we known that there was no alcohol in the stadium (due to the game being a College game), we would have bought more than half a carton of beer!!

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The marching band rivalry is also very competitive and throughout the game, the opposing bands were seated at opposite ends of the stands belting out their tunes. At half time, the bands came out for their own showdown. We left after the third quarter as Carys was becoming very restless and the game had already drawn on for nearly 3 hours. Georgia eventually won the game 23-20.

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Around this time, we discovered a new friend living in our front garden. He likes sitting in the sun and eating small lizard and bugs. Meet Randall!

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We believe that Randall is a Southern Black Racer and we wave to him whenever we spy him through the window. He usually sits on top of our front hedges so he is easy to spot. Meeting Randall was also a good opportunity to teach Carys about how snakes shed their skin as we later found a complete skin, including face, although I can't find that photo anywhere.

We found out relatively late in the Halloween season about a crop maze nearby called the Amazing Grace Crop Maze. Every year, a different theme is planned for the maze and this year the maze theme was 'Amazing Grace' (the words were the maze and you can see the aerial photo at the bottom of the link page). By the time we got to the maze (which is not planted with corn but with sorghum), the plants were very brown and it was very quiet...all the better for us to have the maze and grounds to ourselves! There was a corn crib, cow train, pumpkin patch and more family fun to enjoy and Carys loved exploring! We are looking forward to visiting again next year to explore the maze when it is greener to compare the difference.

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The next day, we visited the Jacksonville Fair for what we hoped would be a fun day and for most of our day, it was! Apart from Sideshow Alley, we enjoyed the racing pigs, watched chicks hatch, marvelled at the size of some of the cattle and avoided all things deep fried. A typical day at the fair until Carys injured her arm on one of the attractions. We believe she may have pinched her arm in a moving stairway but as soon as we saw her arm, we raced straight to the nearby Children's Hospital for x-rays. The Fairground staff were absolutely no help at all and the attraction supervisor didn't seem bothered that a young child had potentially broken her arm. Needless to say, we won't visit the Jacksonville Fair again! Thankfully, Carys eventually settled and allowed the x-rays to be taken and thankfully, she only suffered a fairly strong contusion which took a few weeks to fully recover from. The staff were wonderful and the Dr showed Carys her arm x-ray which she was very interested about. This was our first, and hopefully last, introduction to the the Florida hospital system!

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Food trucks are a big thing here in the USA and we are always keen to try the foods they have on offer. There was a Food Truck Rally on the morning of Carys' birthday party and we ducked into town to see what was happening. At a guess, there were probably about 15 trucks and the crowds were small when we arrived so we were able to get in, grab a bite to eat and head home to prep for our Little Gym party (we actually had a classmate party 2 hours before ours so we had 2 Little Gym parties on the same day!) My favourite meal were the swedish meatballs from the Swedish Bistro truck but my favourite truck was Chew Chew Food Truck, and not just for the Chuck Norris joke of the Day!

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Ok, party time! Carys had a Dora and Diego themed party at the Little Gym and we invited all of her classmates and some of her Australian friends. We served Aussie food like mini pavlovas, cheese and vegemite crackers, fairy bread and the almost obligatory chicken nuggets and it was fantastic to see everyone have a wonderful time! Carys had an awesome party and loved all of her presents; Poppy even left some wonderful dress up clothes and a new costume box to start her costume collection. Thanks Poppy!

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Posted by dinige 11.07.2014 13:44 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Halloween


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We began our month of Halloween activities with some local fun. We shopped around the local costume shops trying to decide how to decorate our house and what costumes we should wear on the big night. Whilst shopping, Carys wanted to try an indoor kids bungy and although we were sceptical that she would actually enjoy it, she loved it! I just love the look of joy on her face!

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We also attended a local Fall Festival and Carys couldn't wait to dress up as a Barbie Princess.
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As well as carving some traditional Jack-O-Lanterns, we also decorated some milk bottles to decorate the front yard. Carys drew on the sides of her bottle but she really wanted a picture of Mickey Mouse on the front of her homemade lantern. We used to put small treats in empty plastic bottles for Eddie to play with and when we started to decorate our Halloween bottles, we had to keep them away from him. Just the sound of an empty plastic bottle would always get Eddie excited about a possible treat! This excitement was a great sign that slowly but surely, he was starting to feel better and his twice daily nebulisation and mountain of medication was helping.

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The Jacksonville Zoo opened their gates for a special Halloween themed zoo adventure and this year, instead of braving the crowds at Disney, we thought we would stay local. Carys wanted to dress up as Dora the Explorer (naturally!) and we took a special light up lolly bucket for the lolly stations that we had to pass through. The zoo had special themed areas, jumping castles, dance areas with DJs and of course, the animals, although not all enclosures were open to the public. It was fantastic to visit the zoo at night and we all had a great time!

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To select our pumpkins for carving, we visited a local pumpkin patch one evening after Daddy returned home from work. We left our pumpkin picking as late as we could so that (hopefully) our pumpkins would last longer and although the selection wasn't huge, we found the perfect pumpkins for the designs we wanted to try. Carys even found herself her own little pumpkins.

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On Halloween day, Carys' school had a Halloween Parade and each class was able to dress up and parade around the carpark where parents were waiting to share candy. I was surprised at the effort some kids and parents had gone to and it was wonderful to see the delight in the kids faces when they saw familiar faces outside waiting for them. Many parents (like me) gave out healthier treats like muesli bars or yoghurt raisins and it was also funny to see some kids avoid those parents! Carys dressed up as Izzy from the Jake and the Neverland Pirates cartoon. Arrgh! Afterwards, a little Halloween party followed with Halloween themed morning tea.

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On Halloween night, we were all excited about our first American Halloween. Our costumes were ready, our lollies for visitors were by the door and we were trying to guess what time the first trick or treaters would arrive. Well, they arrived quite early (around 5pm) and we weren't dressed but that was not a problem. We left a bag out the front of the house with treats for people to help themselves, we dressed and departed on our trick or treating way. As we found out, the adults mostly sat out the front of their houses with wine or beer and snacks whilst the kids door knocked the street. We went up and down our cul de sac, around to an Aussie friend, then down to a big house party before returning home. We ran into a few people that we knew, and many that were surprised by our outfits and accents (still a novelty to some after all this time!). Carys had a fantastic time and although some adults wanted to give her fistfuls of lollies, we politely only accepted one piece per house. I was actually shocked at the amount of candy that some of the more rounder children (and some adults) were shovelling into their buckets! All the more reason to teach Carys about moderation saving things for others. Anyway, here we are at the start of our evening, Carys didn't want to wear her Dora wig but you get the idea. Stupidly, I forgot to charge my camera before we left so this is the only photo I have of us but if I find any others, I'll edit them in later. Next year, I promise more!

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Here is our haul at the end of the night. This is a 1 gallon bag which equates to about 3.8 litres and I am so glad we turned down the people handing out handfuls of lollies!

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Posted by dinige 30.06.2014 12:20 Archived in USA Comments (1)

A visit from Poppy and a very sick Eddie


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After our adventures in Port St Joe and Boston, Eddie was a very sick boy for several weeks. On the night he arrived in America way back in March 2013, he became very sick overnight and after an expensive trip to the vet first thing the next morning, we discovered he had a severe case of Megaesophagus and Aspiration Pneumonia (meaning he had inhaled food whilst regurgitating). This was the first we knew of this rare illness and as far as all the further tests would show, it was idiopathic. From Wikipedia, "Megaesophagus (also known as ME or MegaE) is a condition in humans, cats and dogs where peristalsis fails to occur properly and the esophagus is enlarged. Normally, when the animal's esophagus is functioning properly, it acts as a muscle and pushes the food down the esophagus into the stomach. However, when an animal has megaesophagus, the esophagus stays enlarged and does not push the food down to the stomach. Therefore, the food fails to enter the stomach and often stays in the esophagus, and is eventually regurgitated, or enters the lungs through breathing, or decays in the esophagus."

After our 2 weeks away, Eddie was again diagnosed with AP and again, it took him several weeks to recover. He had lost almost 7 kgs (15 lbs) in two weeks, his ME had also become much worse and he had begun to regurgitate on his own saliva. Our beautiful, otherwise healthy dog had begun to slip away from us and we were determined to keep him with us and as happy as possible for as long as possible. This involved a lot of around the clock care and some new items to help us all. The first new item we acquired was a Neck Hug to elevate his head whilst he was lying down. The second was a Bailey Chair, lovingly handmade by the inspirational Susan and her husband from Bailey Chairs 4 Dogs. Susan is a multiple cancer survivor who donates all of her spare time to helping others battle this horrible disease. A Bailey Chair is used to keep the animal elevated when eating, drinking and resting whilst the food journeys down to the stomach using gravity instead of the damaged esophagus. Eddie never did work out how to back up into the chair and occasionally, he managed to jump out but eventually, we managed to get his weight back up to his normal healthy weight of around 30 kgs (66 lbs).

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To give you an idea of just how big this chair is, here is our Quality Control Officer.
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During this period of recuperation, Poppy arrived for a visit! We weren't able to get out as much as we would have liked but we were still able to manage a few local adventures. The first was to a Jacksonville Jaguars game where we saw our first decent half time performance from a marching band (dedicated to the Armed Forces). The mascot, Jaxon De Ville, also backflipped into the stadium from atop a stadium lightpole!

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Army (a tank)
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Navy (a submarine)
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Air Force (an aircraft). Unfortunately, I missed the Marine Corps tribute :(
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Next up was a trip to the Jacksonville Zoo where we fed stingrays, patted pygmy goats, rode the carousel and fed the parrots.

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We also visited St Augustine and the Ponce de Leon Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park to visit the original site of the nation's oldest city. The site itself has many interesting things to do and we spent a fair amount of time learning about the history of the area. Unfortunately though, we must have sampled a dodgy batch of water from the Fountain of Youth as we do not feel any younger! The water from the spring that we sampled was estimated to be over 200 years old and had a strong sulphur smell and taste to it. We were also treated to a live cannon firing and we were able to also see inside some traditional huts and see some original jewellery carvings.

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A Tampa Bay Rays game was also on the agenda whilst Poppy was visiting. The Rays were playing a postseason playoff series of 5 games against the Boston Red Sox to determine who would go on to play in the League Championship Series. The Red Sox won the series and then went on to win the World Series Championship. On the night we went to watch though, the atmosphere was electric, the Rays won and the dome glowed orange. The next morning we visited the Great Explorations Children's Museum and Carys ran around and played to her heart's content.

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Before Poppy went home to Australia, he indulged himself with a little cruise to the Bahamas. He had a fantastic time and although we missed him, we filled our time with a birthday party for one of our Little Gym friends and of course, looking after Eddie. We also did some more art and craft with Poppy and redecorated the drive way before bidding him farewell.

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Posted by dinige 22.06.2014 19:42 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Boston bound (part 2)

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With some lovely pastries, coffee and chocolate milk in our bellies, we wandered down to the subway to head out towards a well known American Brewery, Samuel Adams. Samuel Adams, the man, is very well known throughout the USA as a member of the Boston Tea Party, signer of the Declaration of Independence and also as a Governor of the Commonwealth. We saw and heard many interesting things about Samuel Adams and the American Revolution whilst in Boston so we celebrated with a brewery tour in his honour. The walk from the train station to the brewery was full of interesting sights of suburbia including the interesting shape of some of the houses and some bloke called David.

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The Brewery is not a large brewery, nor does it supply large quantities of beer for the mass market, but it is the original brewery and it also is the main site for trialling and testing new brews. Oh, and free tours with beer tasting! After a late night at the baseball the previous night, Carys was less than enthusiastic but before she nodded off, she did try smelling some of the different varieties of hops. Her response? "Yuck!"

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We left the brewery with some additional glassware and returned to the city to find something to eat off our shortlist. What better place to eat than the oldest restaurant in America? We joined plenty of historical, famous and not so famous diners at the Union Oyster House and although we weren't famous enough to make the engraved list, plenty of others did. The food was very nice and there were plenty of historical artefacts to look at throughout the restaurant. Very close to the Union Oyster House was the oldest tavern in America, The Bell in Hand Tavern, and the striking New England Holocaust Memorial. To me, the most striking aspect of the memorial is that the 6 towers represent the gas furnaces of each of the 6 camps, with each tower inscribed with hundreds of seven digit numbers of victims, with a flickering light and constant steam to highlight them.

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Next up we wandered down to the harbour to visit the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum. Not only could you view replicas of the original ships, but you were invited to participate in reenactments of events of the American Revolution in 1773. It was one of the best multi-sensory museums I've ever visited and the samples of tea from the time of the Revolution were also very interesting.

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Our last stop before bed was to a fun fondue restaurant for dinner. It's not all about cheese and chocolate anymore!

On our last morning before flying home, we hopped back onto the train and headed out towards the Bunker Hill Monument, the site of the first major battle of the American Revolution. The hill is located in a very pretty and leafy suburb with wonderful views of the surrounding areas. It was a beautiful Autumn/Fall day and a great day to be out in the sun.

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We couldn't end our trip without another walk through Boston Common and stopping for another ride on the carousel for Carys. Each time she rode, she chose a different animal. I think her favourite was either the dragon horse or a cat with a fish in its mouth. She also loved throwing the Autumn leaves in the air and running through them!

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Farewell Boston, we had a fantastic time and we wish we had more time to explore you!

Posted by dinige 20.06.2014 12:01 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Boston bound (part 1)

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After nearly 2 weeks with us, we bade a sad farewell to Uncle Jason, Aunty Megan, Sibella and Mitchell and Aunty Serena who met us in Port St Joe. The cousins all had a fantastic time together and LOVED playing in the pool together almost every day! We were also delighted though to see Nanny Wendy and Poppy John again and also super happy that they were coming home with us for a few days. We had plenty to show them after nearly 7 months away!

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We arrived home and repacked for an exciting weekend in Boston, Massachusetts. On the short walk to our accommodation, it became very clear that Boston was a mix of the historical and new and it was shaping up to be a very interesting stay. We stayed at a lovely historical hotel called the Boston Park Plaza, right across from the famous Boston Common. We enjoyed walking around the Common and Carys loved the carousel, Frog Pond and park. Whilst we were walking around, we found a bar that some of you might remember, the Cheers Bar. Although not actually called the Cheers Bar (it is called the Bull and Finch), it was the original inspiration for the tv show called Cheers. We didn't have time to drop in on this visit as conveniently, the bar was located right next to the tourist trolley stop that we then got on.

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Julie F, I thought of you when I saw this lady!
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After a 6am flight, the trolley was a welcome respite from walking and gave Carys a great opportunity to have a nap. The trolley tour was a fully narrated, hop on hop off bus which allowed us to see much of the city and decide where we wanted to go next. We usually try to do some sort of trolley tour at most of the places we visit so we know what we are looking at and so we can also see a lot in a short period of time. One of the main reasons we decided to visit Boston is to watch a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park. On this occasion, the Red Sox were playing the New York Yankees. Even if you aren't a big baseball fan, hopefully you would have heard of the two most famous baseball teams! Our trolley tour took us right past Fenway Park and we were able to get a great view of the outside of the stadium before the game later that night.

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We took the train to Fenway and just as we got off, the heavens opened. We waited for the rain to pass before continuing on foot to the ball ground and thankfully, the rain didn't return. One of the first things we saw once we arrived at the ground was a balloon artist and he asked Carys what she would like. She shocked him by asking for Dora (naturally!) and surprisingly, he delivered and we had one very happy little girl!

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The atmosphere at Fenway was generally, happy and cosy except when Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees stepped up to the plate. The whole place erupted in deafening and resounding 'boos' in response the the doping scandal that he was embroiled in at the time. It was actually quite funny to see fans from both teams united in their condemnation of his extremely poor sportsmanship. That said, our seats were very good for Fenway where ticket prices are known to be very expensive and hard to get hold of for popular games. The final score was 8-4 to the Red Sox, we returned to our hotel and so ended our first day in Boston.

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Posted by dinige 03.06.2014 18:26 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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